The subject of organ donation came up on a television programme that Sarah Powell was watching a few years ago with the second youngest of her seven children, Karen, at their home in Gurteen, Co Sligo.
“She just said to me ‘if anything ever happens to me, I want to do that’,” recalls Sarah. At the time, her daughter was studying healthcare support at the Westport College of Further Education, which included a first-aid responder course.
“I think it came up on that course,” Sarah says. Karen got an organ donor card, which her mother signed, but soon forgot about – until November 2015.
It was the middle of the day, on November 19th, when two gardaí came to the door to break the news that Karen had been involved in a serious road incident.The Irish Times
reported that by then a 20-year-old student of social studies at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Castlebar, Karen had been driving on the N17 near Claremorris when her car was in collision with a lorry.She was airlifted to University College Hospital in Galway, where she remained in a coma in intensive care, with swelling on the brain.
Medical staff told the family there was a possibility the swelling would go down and they stayed with her in the hospital that Thursday night. But the next morning the neurologist explained they had done two independent tests to see if there was any sign of brain activity, but there was none.
It was at that stage, Sarah says, they were told it was hospital policy to ask if the family would consider organ donation. She and her husband, Pat, have four sons and two other daughters, who then ranged in age from 35 to16 years.No doubts
“When the neurologist left us, Stephen, my eldest son, asked if any of us had any objections and none of us had. I remembered then straightaway that conversation Karen and I had had.
“There were never any doubts – we just said go ahead. And I never did regret it. Her lungs and her liver were donated and her heart valves, which are used for little babies.”
Sarah agrees that a quick decision was needed. “You either do or you don’t.”
So, she advises people who want to donate their organs to let families know of their wishes. This would help prepare them as the next-of-kin who need to give permission if they were ever find to themselves in the same tragic situation as the Powells did.
It was such a distressing time, Sarah says she didn’t give a lot of thought then to the people who might receive Karen’s organs. “You are going through so much grief,” she says. “I didn’t really think of the recipients an awful lot. Maybe more so in the last while. It’s two years since last November.”
However, she adds: “It was nice to hear that the operations were successful.”
The family were very public about the fact that Karen had donated her organs and, as a result, Sarah says, people have said to them that they had got a donor card.
Karen, who worked part-time at the visitor centre in Lough Key Forest Park in Boyle, Co Roscommon, was “an ordinary student, full of life, out and about with plenty of friends, and she is sorely missed”.
She would have been 23 on Mother’s Day this year.